2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

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Available in 2 styles:  2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV 4dr Hatchback shown
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Asking Price Range
$8,042–$21,738

Estimated MPG

126 city / 99 hwy


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    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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Cars.com National

With a more accommodating and versatile interior than its small size suggests, the 2012 Mitsubishi i makes plenty of sacrifices to arrive at its relatively low price.

At a starting price of $29,125, the wee 2012 Mitsubishi electric car named "i" is (as of this writing) the most affordable full-use EV in the U.S. market, priced $6,075 below a base Nissan Leaf. Like the Leaf and the new 2012 Ford Focus Electric ($39,200), the i is eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, depending on the buyer's income and tax liability. First offered in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington state in December 2011, it's now available on most of the East Coast and has begun to spread across the country.

The Mitsubishi's higher overall efficiency should translate to faster charging times and lower ownership costs, but you give up some things, too. For one thing, the EPA estimates the i's range at 62 miles versus 73 for the Leaf, which is the leading EV and its closest competitor.

What's it Called?
The i's name has changed a couple of times since it was first suggested for the U.S. market. In Japan, a gas-powered version sold since 2006 is called the i. There, the electric version is called the i-MiEV, in which MiEV stands for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle. Originally, we were prepared to receive the "i-MiEV," but now Mitsubishi refers to it as the i, occasionally "powered by MiEV."

The i of the Beholder
Small and distinctive, the i is often mistaken for a Smart car, though Smart markets only a two-door two-seater. The i is a four-door, four-seat hatchback. At 144.7 inches long, the Mitsubishi is more than 3 feet longer than the Smart ForTwo but shorter than the Nissan Leaf and Focus Electric by more than 2 feet. At 62.4 inches wide, it's among the narrowest cars on the road, just an inch wider than the ForTwo and anywhere from 1 to 6 inches narrower than the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Scion iQ and low-slung Mazda MX-5 Miata.

These dimensions make the i a great choice for the city, as it can squeeze through tight openings and occupy small parking spaces, and it has a tight 30.8-foot turning circle. Its height — taller than all the other models mentioned — also brings advantages in interior space.

i on the Road
The i isn't as quick off the line as the Leaf, though it does pick up the pace notably after passing 20 mph. The braking feels pretty good overall, but not as natural as the Leaf's, which itself doesn't quite match a regular car. No automaker has managed to make regenerative braking feel as natural as the conventional kind, but I've found the pure EVs to be better than hybrids and the Chevrolet Volt. Technically, the Mitsubishi's rear drum brakes are inferior and might contribute to its substandard pedal feel.

I wasn't impressed with the i's handling. It tends to wander at highway speeds, even in the absence of crosswinds. There's not much steering feedback, either, which is especially disappointing in the only rear-wheel-drive EV. (When free of drive hardware, a car's front end has a fundamental advantage in this regard.)

As for the i's dynamics, you feel the car's tall, narrow stance. Having the battery pack under the floor certainly helps weigh it down, but the i feels nowhere near as grounded as the Leaf, which has an appreciably low center of gravity. The Mitsubishi's tires are also quite small. Rated P145/60R15, the front tires are only 5.7 inches wide. The drive wheels have wider tires: 175/60R25, or 6.9 inches wide. The car slides if pushed too hard into corners, but that's preferable to tipping over … .

The wheels are very close to the bumpers, but the small overall length makes for a short wheelbase regardless, and this combines with the narrow stance for more jostling than we've experienced in other EVs.

For more than a year, we've been telling people the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf we own are nothing like the dinky, glorified golf carts people tend to envision when they think of electric cars. Far from it, in fact. The i, on the other hand … it's no golf cart, but it definitely feels dinkier and less refined.

Efficiency, Range and Charging
I'm not a fan of the EPA's miles per gallon equivalent (mpge) specification for EVs because it's misleading in multiple ways, but it does reflect comparative efficiency among different EV models.

EPA-Estimated Efficiency

 

Range (mi)*

City (mpge)

Highway (mpge)

Combined (mpge)

Mitsubishi i

62

126

99

112

Nissan Leaf

73

106

92

99

Ford Focus Electric

76

110

99

105

*In combined driving

As the table reflects, the EPA estimates that the Mitsubishi has the shortest range but the highest mpg equivalent in city and combined driving. However, its highway mpge matches that of the heavier Focus Electric, a downside of the Mitsubishi's unique shape and not-so-great aerodynamics. The efficiency witnessed at lower speeds is lost on the highway where resistance to drag is more important than weight.

The EPA provides the range estimates above, which we've found reasonably accurate during our year with a Nissan Leaf, but EV shoppers should know all the cars deliver less range in cold temperatures. The battery-electric carmakers tend to cite an "up-to" number for their cars' range on a full charge: 100 miles for the Leaf and Focus and 85 miles for the i — all of which are unrealistic goals in normal driving.

As we reported on KickingTires, we were impressed with how well the Mitsubishi's range estimation gauge matched reality. The Leaf has been a disappointment in this regard.

Mitsubishi estimates a depleted i battery pack should recharge in 22 hours with the included 120-volt cord or seven hours with a recommended 240-volt Level 2 charging system, which costs hundreds to thousands of dollars more for the hardware and installation. The Leaf's time estimates are similar despite its higher-capacity battery, so I suspect the Mitsubishi will charge faster in practice. The Focus charges twice as fast on Level 2 but lacks a DC quick-charge port, which can charge a depleted battery to 80 percent in as little as 30 minutes at a high-voltage public charging station (see our test). Nissan includes the quick-charge port on its higher trim level, and Mitsubishi includes it in an optional $2,790 Premium Package offered only for the higher trim level, the SE.

In the i
Typical of EVs, the Mitsubishi's seat adjustments are manual. We've complained that the Leaf's steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope; the i's does neither of these. Fortunately the driver's seat has a height adjustment. The seating specifications suggest otherwise, but the tall i has plenty of headroom. Legroom is limited. At 6 feet tall, I was able to drive it just fine, but I was always wishing I had more room to stretch out.

At 30.0 inches of backseat legroom, the i is only 1.1 inches shy of the Leaf, and here the numbers seem accurate. For adult passengers, both cars result in raised knees, but they're surprisingly accommodating and adequate for cars with limited range, especially one as small as the Mitsubishi. Beverages aren't accommodated; the cupholders are in front. Check out the Car Seat Check to see how the car accommodated various child-safety seats.

The i's cargo area also has pros and cons. With 13.2 cubic feet of volume behind the backseat, the i trails the Leaf's 14.5 cubic feet. But once you fold both cars' backseats, the Mitsubishi takes the lead. For one thing, the folded seats result in a flat cargo floor. In the Leaf, the flattened seats are higher than the sunken bin behind them. By the numbers, the Mitsubishi more than doubles the Nissan's maximum volume with 50.4 cubic feet. Overall, the i's cabin space is well-divided, for surprising versatility.

Cabin Materials & Features
Unfortunately, dinkiness also appears in the i's interior. The Leaf isn't the lap of luxury either, but some of the Mitsubishi's materials are even more modest. The Leaf has padded door and center armrests. The i has hard door armrests and no center armrest. Our test car was an SE, the higher trim level, which adds upgraded cloth upholstery, leather for the steering wheel and shifter, a two-tone instrument panel, silver accents and a passenger vanity mirror. The base ES can only be less impressive.

Standard equipment regardless of trim level includes power windows, locks and side mirrors; remote keyless entry; and a seat heater for the driver. Cruise control and keyless access are neither included nor optional. Unlike other EVs, the i's climate control isn't fully automatic. There's a basic hot/cold temperature dial rather than a degree selection, and though there are automatic settings on the fan speed and mode, I found I had to adjust them to warm or cool the cabin quickly enough.

This feature is also a shortcoming for remote cabin conditioning. Like the other EVs, the i's interior can be warmed or cooled before driving while it's still on grid power, which ensures comfort when you get in and lessens the use of range-depleting heat and air conditioning. Unlike the other cars, which accomplish this from anywhere by means of smartphone applications and websites, the Mitsubishi has no built-in cellular capability, so a small wireless remote control is standard equipment. Unless you remember to set the ventilation system where you think you'll need it the next time you drive, you don't know what you'll get, or how quickly. On the remote, you can choose heat, cool or defrost settings where the Leaf and Volt are just on/off and rely on the car's last temperature setting.

Further, despite a little extendable antenna on the remote, its range is limited. It works around the house, but if you're at the office or out to dinner, it's unlikely to reach the car wherever it's parked and charging. It couldn't penetrate the above-ground parking structure across the street from our office where our Leaf and Volt flawlessly receive their cellular signals.

Options
The i has few options. The ES and SE are both eligible for the $150 Cold Zone Package, which adds heated side mirrors and a battery-warming system. (The warmer activates only when the battery temperature dips to 13 degrees below zero. Warming — and cooling during Level 3 quick charging — relies on the same system that conditions the cabin.)

Only the SE can get the Premium Package ($2,790), which automatically includes the Cold Zone Package and adds a navigation system with backup camera, a Bluetooth hands-free cellphone function, a USB audio port and quick-charge port.

The Mitsubishi's navigation system lacks the charging-station resource found in the Leaf, and it also doesn't display power usage or efficiency history.

Safety
The Mitsubishi i hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As required, it has front airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control. Also standard are seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front seats and curtain airbags to protect front and rear occupants.

For a full list of safety features, click here.

Mitsubishi i in the Market
The Mitsubishi i might cost less than the Nissan Leaf, but it's also a lesser car. In addition to the Nissan Leaf's longer range rating and greater interior quality, the base version includes cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, heated side mirrors, steering-wheel audio controls, keyless access, alloy wheels, a navigation system with elaborate EV features and connectivity with an owner's web portal and smartphone.

Had the Mitsubishi i come out a couple of years ago, it probably would have done pretty well, but I can't imagine many shoppers will pick it over the Leaf. An extra $6,075 seems like a lot, but once you account for the missing features, the i's advantage narrows. According to the demographics, buyers of this new class of plug-in cars aren't exactly hurting for money.

Send Joe an email  


Related Images
Exterior
Exterior

Rear
Rear

Wheels
Wheels

Front seats
Front seats

Backseat
Backseat

Cargo, part I
Cargo, part I

Cargo, part II
Cargo, part II

Drive modes
Drive modes

Steering wheel
Steering wheel

Instruments
Instruments

Navigation
Navigation

Cabin surfaces
Cabin surfaces

Cupholder
Cupholder

Ventilation system
Ventilation system

Level 1 and 2 charging
Level 1 and 2 charging

Level 3 charging
Level 3 charging

Supplemental remote
Supplemental remote


    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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